Food & Drink

What’s known about the E. coli outbreak that’s sickened 177 and now includes Florida

Here’s what you need to know about E. coli

An E. coli outbreak forced 43 Chipotle locations to temporarily close their doors this week — here are the basics on how outbreaks happen and what symptoms to look for.
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An E. coli outbreak forced 43 Chipotle locations to temporarily close their doors this week — here are the basics on how outbreaks happen and what symptoms to look for.

WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE: 113,000 pounds of beef headed for restaurants recalled for possible link to E. coli outbreak.

The 10-state E. coli outbreak concentrated in the Kentucky-Tennessee-Georgia made its way to Florida last week.

Florida reports three people with E. coli in an outbreak that began in March. None of the three have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the kidney failure that can make E. coli a fatal problem. In fact, none of the 177 people known to have E. coli in this outbreak have HUS. Only 21 people have been hospitalized, a low number compared to other recent E. coli outbreaks.

Here’s what’s known:

What’s causing the outbreak?

Ground beef, but neither the CDC nor USDA knows exactly from where. Two ground beef recalls have been made. Colorado Premium Foods pulled 113,424 pounds of beef distributed to restaurants in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee after a common Tennessee restaurant was found among several E. coli sufferers . Grand Park Packing pulled 53,200 pounds of bulk ground beef that went to Minnesota and institutions in Kentucky.

“Ill people bought or ate ground beef from several different grocery stores and restaurants,” the CDC said. “Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes.”

Who’s getting it the worst?

The eastern part of Kentucky. Federal investigations began after Kentucky and Georgia reported cases to the CDC on March 28. Of the 177 cases, 139 are among Kentucky (65), Tennessee (41) and Georgia (52). The next highest total, 10, comes from Ohio, which shares a border with Kentucky (the airport serving Cincinnati’s metropolitan area is actually across the Ohio River in Heron, Kentucky).

That suggests the Florida cases could be folks who ate beef while elsewhere, then developed symptoms after returning home.

How to love your ground beef safely

Wash your hands before and after working with ground beef.

Wash all surfaces the ground beef touched with hot water and soap. Yes, you can use bleach.

Get your ground beef into a refrigerator or freezer within two hours of buying it at the store. If you put it in the refrigerator, use it within one or two days.

Cook it to at least 160 degrees internal temperature. Measure at the thickest part of the hamburger. One of the best tools in E. coli and salmonella prevention is a food thermometer, preferably one that’s dishwasher safe.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.

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